Trinity Equestrian Center to Partner with Veterans Administration for New Pilot Program

Trinity Equestrian Center, near Eau Claire, has offered mentoring programs for youth, horse-therapy-based programs for veterans, and leadership programs for organizations for several years now. Their programs seek to heal physical, spiritual, emotional, and cognitive injuries and disabilities, as well as building social skills, communication skills, and problem-solving skills.

One of the center’s main programs is its Veteran Horse Therapy, a wellness program for vets designed around equine-assisted therapy. This program is free to qualified vets and their families. They note on their website (www.trinity-ec.com/index.phtml), “Understanding the strategies for combat survival, as well as what symptoms might be exhibited in postwar veterans upon re-introduction to civilian life, is what makes our program so effective. We’ve seen great results with veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, addictions, guilt, grief, anger, panic attacks, sleep disorders, and spiritual injuries.”

As an expansion of their successful program, the center will soon be offering a pilot program in conjunction with the Veterans Administration in Tomah. Recently we asked Toni Mattson, co-owner and director of programs, a few questions about the new program.

A Second Opinion: What are your hopes for the program?  

Toni Mattson: Since 2009, we at Trinity Equestrian Center have provided thousands of free therapy hours for hundreds of veterans and their families struggling with PTSD and other service-related injuries. Additionally, for years we have extended an offer to the Tomah Veterans Administration to join in a therapeutic collaboration and provide a pilot program featuring our equine-assisted psychotherapy for some of their clients experiencing PTSD. We are thrilled to share that we have been given the green light to go ahead with the pilot program!

My hope for this relationship is not only to help many, many more veterans, but also to model a desperately needed alliance between government institutions and non-profits that shows collectively we can accomplish far more than what we all individually can do.

ASO: What do you envision for the program?

TM: I envision a multi-month series of weekly, 50-minute, equine-based therapy sessions. I expect it will be a blend of individual and group sessions with four veterans per group. The Tomah VA will determine who participates in the program, and our therapy team will design the format and approach. This level of collaboration and co-creation will be unprecedented in Wisconsin for this type of program.

ASO: Why have you and Trinity Equestrian Center decided to try it?

TM: I’m so confident with the work we do and immensely eager to expand the community of veterans we can and do serve. I also respect and admire organizations like the Tomah VA that look at things a little differently and embrace the concept of being willing do something different in order to get a different result. I love that!

ASO: How can people help support your work with veterans?

TM: You can help support the work the center does with veterans by participating in the 7th Annual Trinity Equestrian Center Horsepower for Veterans motorcycle ride. It will be held on Saturday, June 24, at the center, located at 5300 State Highway 37, southwest of Eau Claire. Besides the bike run to the Highground in Neillsville and back, there will be a continental breakfast, silent auction, veterans stories, an opening ceremony, a raffle, bike show awards, and, after working up quite an appetite with all of that, a BBQ chicken meal. For more information visit trinity-ec.com or call 715-835-4530.

Service Dogs and PTSD: Dogs Can Help Address Stress

An Interview with Heather Mishefske, emBARK

A Second Opinion: Do you feel having a dog in general (not specifically trained) can be helpful to a person with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? If so, why? In what ways? Are they especially helpful to veterans?
Heather Mishefske:
Absolutely a dog is helpful to anyone with PTSD. A dog does not need to be specifically trained to provide benefits to people with PTSD. Dogs meet us in the moment, and for people who struggle with traumatic events of the past, this is an amazing trait. Dogs give unconditional love to their people, and support them via multiple senses. While they support our emotional and tactile senses, they are a constant in our life. They do not ask us to explain, they do not ask us to talk, nor do they ask for emotional support back to them. They simply are there. Dogs also are able to create new routines for exercise, provide a first contact in social settings (which may otherwise be avoided), and allow for accountability in keeping the dog’s schedule for eating/letting out/walking.

ASO: In some cases would it be better for a person with PTSD to go through the process of acquiring a trained and certified service dog? Why or why not?
HM: If a person feels they need support while out in public and needs more than just emotional support, it is imperative that a dog be trained to support that person in public settings. Being out in public brings with it extreme distractions, difficult environments, loud sounds, unusual surfaces, and unique settings. A dog needs to have stealth focus to maintain his/her job in supporting its person under all of these circumstances. Some dogs are obtained via service dog organizations, and some are self-trained.  These dogs are trained to be able to provide mobility assistance, physically interrupt and redirect panic attacks, retrieve medications, alert help, provide nighttime support in the event of nightmares, redirect emotional upsets, provide mobility support, and remind the handler of daily tasks. A well-trained dog can work in a public setting around heavy distractions and provide support while ignoring these distractions.

ASO: You have found sometimes people claim their dogs are service dogs, but they really aren’t trained to be. Why do you think people do that? How does that create issues for people whose dogs ARE trained and certified?
HM: There is an alarming amount of dogs out in public who are not truly service dogs but whose owners claim they are. A service dog is defined as a dog who provides a task for the handler that the handler cannot do himself or herself. For many, a service dog is absolutely crucial in allowing these handlers to be able to survive in public. With many claiming that their pet is a service animal, this is hurting legislation allowing real service dogs to come into public settings. There have been examples in the press where seeing-eye dogs have been denied access in public settings due to businesses having had bad previous experiences with “fake” service dogs in that facility.

A service dog in public should be an invisible extension of its handler. They are not there to be petted, to be social, or to interact with anyone other than their person. They should have superb manners, stealth focus, and be completely attentive to their handler. Touting your pet as a service dog under false pretenses is hurting those who really rely on their service dogs, and this is hugely unethical. There is no national certification, no government regulations, or no “vest” requirements for service dogs. Dogs that are trained to perform tasks for disabled people qualify as service animals under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). They are generally allowed to accompany their owners wherever the public can go. There is also something called an emotional support dog. These dogs support a person emotionally but are not allowed to accompany them in public places under the ADA laws. Emotional support dogs do not need the advanced training that service dogs do, as they do not have public access rights other than travel and housing rights.

ASO: How are dogs beneficial to their humans even if they don’t have PTSD? What are the benefits of having a dog?
HM:
There are SO many benefits!  Research has proven that being present around dogs or owning a dog can lower blood pressure, raise levels of feel-good hormones, get people out exercising, create social opportunities, help prevent children from developing allergies later in life, provide companionship, and many other amazing things!

Living with a dog requires you to be accountable. They require to us to be responsible for another life other than our own. In return they provide unwavering loyalty, nonjudgmental relationships, and a constant support. They simply walk side by side with us accompanying us through the web that life throws at us.

Adrenal Health: A Direct Link to PTSD

By Heidi Toy, Educated Nutrition      

Psychological trauma can cause both acute and long-term issues in individuals. Acute impact can include things such as panic, anxiety, confusion, and heightened cortisol levels due to this response. Some individuals will develop acute stress disorder (ASD), and 80 percent of those individuals will go on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The psychological trauma brought about by the experience of profound threat leads to a longer-term syndrome that has been defined, validated, and termed PTSD in the clinical literature. PTSD is often accompanied by devastating functional impairment. PTSD is a debilitating anxiety disorder that can be triggered by the smallest things. PTSD victims suffer from hyper-arousal, reliving traumatic events, and avoidance.

Most individuals are aware of trauma’s effects on our mental states, but not the physical effects it has on our bodies. During times of trauma and the PTSD that may follow, an individual’s adrenal glands take a terrible toll. When the brain perceives a threat, the adrenal glands flood the body with adrenaline and cortisol; our body’s natural reaction being “fight or flight.” In individuals with PTSD, quite often military personnel or first responders, the persistent state of hyper-arousal can even lead to permanent neurological changes.

The brain monitors the amount of cortisol our bodies require. Cortisol helps regulate the immune system, blood sugar, and tendencies toward depression. The adrenal system is responsible for processing stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These hormones can be severely affected after significant trauma leading to PTSD. A variety of symptoms can occur, such as fatigue, exhaustion, and stress overload.

The adrenal glands not only help regulate the body’s reaction to stress, but also produce hormones that regulate reproduction. The major stress hormones are cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. These hormones help increase energy, increase blood sugar levels, and speed up circulation and respiration to help the body survive through fight or flight. The major sex hormones produced by the adrenals are estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. These are all critical for growth, metabolism, strength, endurance, mental drive, menstrual function, and reproductive ability.

Depending on how long an individual with PTSD suffers from adrenal fatigue, they can suffer from both hyper-adrenal issues, as well as hypo-adrenal issues. Individuals with current on-set PTSD are stuck in a state of stress producing stress hormones at higher than normal levels. Individuals who have suffered from PTSD for a longer period have lower cortisol levels than normal, like with advanced adrenal fatigue where energy levels crash from reduced adrenal function.

Most Veteran’s Affairs (VA) hospitals are now being staffed with individuals that are well-versed in PTSD; however, many still do not understand the role the adrenal glands play as the Western medical community does not recognize adrenal fatigue as an accepted diagnosis, although, the symptoms are significant enough to impair a person’s life following the experience or trauma.

Symptoms of adrenal fatigue include: slow morning starter, insomnia, crave salty foods, tendency to need sunglasses, bright lights at night bother eyes, tend to be keyed up/trouble calming down, become dizzy when standing up suddenly, experience “hangry” hungry and/or angry if meals are missed (hypoglycemia). If you experience any of these symptoms, lab-based adrenal testing via saliva or DUTCH urine by a practitioner who is versed in reading these tests and writing adequate healing protocols using supplementation, diet, and lifestyle changes should be considered. For the months of May/June 2017, any military or first responder personnel who presents this article to our office will receive $50 off an adrenal saliva index test (not redeemable for cash).

Adrenal Restoration Tips:

Stress management   • Get adequate sleep. 7 to 8 hours of sleep beginning at 10:00 p.m. is much more restoring to the adrenals than 8 hours beginning at 1:00 a.m. Nap, if needed, but not enough to interfere with night sleep • Relaxation: Breathing or skilled relaxation exercises, listen to relaxation tapes, meditate, biofeedback • Accept nurturing and affection • Laughter • Counseling

Diet • Whole foods • Avoid refined sugar • Avoid alcohol • Adequate protein • Eliminate/Reduce caffeine • Avoid all allergic foods such as gluten, soy, corn, which can weaken the system and can be an adrenal stressor • Fasting and detoxification/cleansing diets should be avoided, at least initially

Heidi Toy is a functional medicine practitioner, and the owner of Educated Nutrition, located in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Her focus is helping people heal holistically, with an emphasis on digestion, weight loss, depression, female hormone issues, and fatigue. 

Emotional Freedom Technique

By Lynn Buske: dedicated mother, sustainability enthusiast, avid writer, and body/mind/spirit wellness educator through BaredFeet – a longterm project, now turning non-profit, through which she offers yoga classes, dance and movement education, arts as wellness, and information on pure eating, mental health, and spiritual wholeness.

You slip and fall on the ice . . . and break your arm. Walking on the ice is never the same again. Each winter you approach the outdoors with apprehension and a sincere dislike for icy weather.  You previously never noticed how much there was and how slippery it was. Perhaps even seasonal depression touches you each winter. And your arm? Well you are cautious with it, it never seemed to return to the way it was, even though x-rays showed that it healed, and that leaves you frustrated and in pain. This is an example of how one traumatic negative experience impacts your emotions and belief system, which impacts your future everyday life in unpleasant ways.

Enter Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT).  Combining tapping on acupressure points, meditation, and cognitive awareness, EFT is an approach to healing that gently considers the physical, emotional, mental,  and spiritual impacts of negative experiences. The basis of it:

  • Positive healthy energy in the body flows freely. Every cell of our body functions optimally when blood, oxygen, and neurons move fluidly.
  • Negative emotions are emotions we try to protect ourselves from: pain, anger, grief, resentment, etc. “The cause of all negative emotions is a disruption in the body’s energy system,” explains founder Gary Craig. When traumatic things happen, from an argument to a loss of a child, the flow of our body’s energy is disrupted. Those disruptions remain—the imbalance and lack of flow causing the symptoms we have.  At this point new, negative beliefs have been formed that impact our view of the world.
  • EFT gently brings your conscious awareness to the blockage—tapping proper flow into the negative memories and symptoms. When all positivity has been restored, the issue dissolves.

This is similar to meditation. The practice of meditation tells us that being present, aware, and unreactive to a negative experience or memory can release it. However, EFT has been found to be more potent and successful than meditation, and the reason for this lies in how it connects the energy pathways of our body to our brain’s conscious thought.  All energy flow is information: “I lift my arm,” “I see ice,” “I am falling,” and “Ouch.” In a traumatic event our information system is overloaded with all of our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual responses—past and present. We cannot process the entire event, nor do we want to. EFT brings awareness to those channels where we have the time, security, and distance to process them. That distance and gentleness makes it more accessible and easier for the non-Buddhist monk to open up to.

EFT was developed by Gary Craig in response to more complicated meridian tapping research.  He first started working with clients on it in 1995. The majority of his first successes came from working with war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. In 2000, he released a manual for anyone to access, learn, and use. This release has generated endless success in many different applications.

People have used it on: broken limbs, cancer, Alzheimer’s, depression, autoimmune disease, anxiety, headaches, anger, grief, belief patterns, as well as “surrogate” tapping on children, animals, loved ones, and even cars that won’t start.

It is 100 percent safe. Applying EFT to extremely painful, complicated diseases and memories should be done with an experienced practitioner (to prevent “re-living” the experience, to provide support, and to assist in unraveling all the layers), but when done on simple daily negative experiences, it can be preventative and bring about a general state of positivity and flow.

Stay tuned for an upcoming article teaching you how to use EFT for yourself and your family, and where you can find local practitioners.

For more information, email baredfeet@gmail.com, call 715-514-4648, or visit www.baredfeet.wordpress.com.

Holistic Treatment for PTSD

By Abbie Burgess

What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? An estimated 8 percent of Americans have the condition —that’s the size of the population of Texas! According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, the demand for treatment continues to grow. Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can affect survivors not only of combat experience, but also other traumatic events such as natural disasters or assault. It has been recognized as a psychobiological mental disorder since 1980, though symptoms often go untreated or undetected. Some sufferers are now finding help through complementary medicine. Holistic practitioners experienced in working with PTSD abound in Eau Claire—and with treatments including massage, therapy animals, and yoga, their methods might pleasantly surprise you.

Treating PTSD with Bodywork Therapy Chris Hayden of Driftless Bodywork in Eau Claire and Menomonie treats patients with therapeutic massage, acupressure, Rolfing Structural Integration, AMMA Therapy, and Tai Chi. “Body therapists have long been aware that emotions play out in the body as well as the mind,” Hayden explains. “This is never more obvious than in the case of trauma, which can create such overwhelm that one’s body becomes locked into a pattern of tension and guarding…it is as if part of the person was frozen in time at the moment of trauma, unable to process the experience and move on.”  By engaging the body’s tissues in a mindful way, Hayden says bodywork can help these patterns to release, allowing the body and mind to be whole in the present moment.

Equine Assisted Therapy They may be too big to fit in a lap, but horses make ideal therapy animals. According to Trinity Equestrian Center, horses have an innate ability to read a person’s body language. The Eau Claire organization offers free veteran horse therapy to qualified military individuals and their families, no prior riding experience required. The program helps veterans struggling with PTSD identify their triggers and create tools to manage reactions, behavior, and choices. “Through experiential work with horses, we help veterans rediscover their identity and re-establish their purpose,” says Trinity Equestrian Center Therapist Sylvia Piekarz. “It is a meaningful experience that will change their heart and therefore, change their life. Working with our horses creates a connection of their hearts that is indescribable and so very effective.”

Healing Emotional Trauma with Yoga Yoga is becoming increasingly recognized as an effective  treatment for reducing symptoms of PTSD. It can also help with prevention—a 2012 study published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy found that sensory-enhanced hatha yoga shows potential to effectively address symptoms of combat stress before they develop into full-blown PTSD. Sandra Helpsmeet, a registered yoga instructor and psychotherapist at Vantage Point Clinic, teaches Yoga for Anxiety and PTSD class and Yoga for Pain and Depression. Both classes are offered in partnership with her clinic, specialized to address the needs of patients within an environment where they can be comfortable going at their own pace. Helpsmeet says yoga is a beneficial auxiliary treatment to therapy and believes the two complement each other well. “People think yoga is yoga. They don’t realize the broad spectrum of applications it has.” Its emphasis on breathing makes it ideally suited for treating trauma conditions. “Yoga is inherently calming and grounding,” she explains. Helpsmeet says any yoga class could be potentially beneficial, especially if the instructor has a high level of certification, but an instructor with experience working with veterans is ideal. This is just a sampling of what holistic practitioners can offer to help patients cope with PTSD. Whether you or someone you love is interested in holistic therapies, the important thing is there are options available. The best way to find out if a method is effective for an individual is to give it a try.